Quinn sees 'some good signs'

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:42 AM ET

Last year, after four games, the Edmonton Oilers were undefeated. They were a team picked to click and they were 4-0.

Only one problem. They weren't clicking. And they were about to take a licking.

They ended up losing five of the next six.

You know the rest of the story.

This year, the Oilers are a more modest 2-1-1 out of the gate, having gassed two games in the last minute. They almost did it again in Saturday's 3-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens.

And they haven't heard an encouraging word from head coach Pat Quinn.

But the players believe they have a team getting back to the old-fashioned Oilers work ethic and they're showing signs of coming together instead of teetering on the brink of coming apart.

Before he took his team on the road yesterday, Quinn admitted he still doesn't know what he has here.

"We are a work in progress -- I hope," he said.

But until he sees more progress, he's not going to be patting people on the back and passing out much praise.

The players, despite the manic depressive tendencies they showcased in the first four at home, think they've got something growing here.

"We're building a good base to fall back on," said defenceman Steve Staios.

"The structure of our game is at a high level. If we keep harping on each other to play a certain way, we're going to win games."

While centre Shawn Horcoff and winger Ales Hemsky aren't off to their greatest starts on the first line, Horcoff is optimistic about the team as a whole.

"Our intensity is back. Our work ethic is back. We did what we needed to do in the first four games -- we built the beginning of something to count on, something that's always been our M.O.

"We'd lost that a little bit. We've added some sandpaper. We've had a lot of breakdowns, but we can work to eliminate those. Our intensity level is back.

"We're becoming a harder team to play against."

Defenceman Ladislav Smid says the team is playing harder and smarter.

"Especially smarter," he said. "The Oilers have been well known for hard work and especially for always skating. Now we're working smarter."

Quinn, though, isn't going anywhere near there.

One thing about the 66-year-old coach: You ask him a question and what you get is a real good chew that ends up with a real good quote a significant distance from where he began -- like with a reference to Fast Eddie Felson from Paul Newman's 1961 movie The Hustler.

"This is a project," he began.

"I don't know how many points I'd say I'd be happy with. I'll know when I see it in how we play and take some comfort that we're getting close.

"I've seen some good signs from our team. But at critical moments when you do good work then follow it up with chicken stuff ...

"Not awareness. Not smarts. Not puck placement. In the last minutes of games "We gave up points in the last minute of two games. Good teams have that once in a while, but in the first four games you give up points in two games, for crying out loud.

"That's when you want to get tough. That's when you've got to get mentally tough. That's when you don't lose the battles.

"That's when you make sure it's safe.

"There's no time for pretty stuff then. You just execute.

"It's like the old pool hustler. It's not what you make, it's what you save.

"When you're leaving ducks out there to rap home, then Fast Eddie is going to reach in your pocket."

You get the idea Quinn doesn't want these guys to start thinking they're anywhere close to amounting to anything yet.

"We pick times to not be smart," he said.

"We're still trying to establish that we're consistent in those areas.

"One of the things coming in, advance scouting as a new coach, was that this team was inconsistent, was irregular, was not dependable. There was no standard."

Quinn hasn't seen anything resembling consistency yet -- or anywhere near the extent of the stuff he wants to see.

Which is the best sign of all.

TERRY.JONES@SUNMEDIA.CA


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